HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs from June 17 to August 6. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 12-15. Today, we present … Sam Houston State.
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SAM HOUSTON STATE (6-5 IN 2018)
Southland Conference (SHSU was Tied for 4th in 2018)
COACH: K.C. Keeler – At School: 6th yr (52-17 record) Overall: 26th yr (226-90-1)
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2017 (Semifinal loss at FCS champs NDSU)
2018 OFFENSE: 30.0 ppg. (41st in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 28.1 ppg. (57th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Oct. 19 vs Nicholls: Two years ago, Sam Houston State thumped Nicholls 66-17 in Huntsville — and both teams still went to the FCS playoffs. Last year, Nicholls beat the Bearkats 27-7 in Thibodaux, La. Don't be surprised if we head into this particular weekend staring at two Southland frontrunners wanting to secure that automatic FCS Playoff berth via the league champion route. Both sides will be hungry here, and we don't see a blowout happening.
SUM IT UP: Sam Houston State enters the 2019 season on a 9-year streak of winning seasons, and the Bearkats look primed for a bounceback after a disappointing (by their standards) 6-5 finish last year. SHSU is ranked No. 20 in the HERO Sports Preseason Top 25, behind Nicholls (No. 13) and Central Arkansas (No. 16) but ahead of the Southland's 2018 playoff teams Incarnate Word and Lamar. As was discussed at Southland Media Days on July 18, the conference has become parity filled all of a sudden, not the "one or two tough games and away we roll" Southland we saw just a few years back. As was seen last year, the frontrunners of the league took lumps from teams that normally wouldn't have dished it out — and you can plan on that again this year. That's why the 'Kats can't take this fall for granted, but at the same time have the talent to beat anybody in the league.
With 2018 Rutgers transfer Mike Dare moving into a coaching role instead of using his final year of eligibility to play, the quarterback spot will come down to Ty Brock — who threw for 2,417 yards last year — and Eric Schmid, who played sparingly but who Keeler said had a great spring like Brock did. A capable receiver — one of the most capable receivers in the nation — is available to toss the ball to. Not many college receivers can say they're coming into their senior season with three straight 1,000-yard seasons, but Nathan Stewart can. He's at 3,715 career yards on 182 receptions with 31 TDs. He's a valuable weapon and can break down a defense in seconds. While the skill position situation is among the best in the nation coming back, the O-line will need some new names to step up behind returning stud Tyler Edwards. As anybody who knows football understands — great skill players are one thing, but having good protection is the key.
On defense, nine players with starting experience return from a group that ranked around the middle of the pack in the FCS in scoring defense. With the firepower that the Bearkats normally have on offense, this defense doesn't need to pin opponents back to the mid teens in scoring average allowed, but taking that four-touchdowns given up per game average down to three? If the 'Kats can do that? That'll go a long way in those league games that can get a little crazy in the scoring department sometimes. One fact to throw out there, too — 11 of the top 13 tacklers return to the Sam Houston State roster this fall, and that's obviously a good thing. Defensive lineman Erick Fowler is one of the most destructive players in the country, following in the footsteps of recent past 'Kat DL All-Americans like Chris Stewart, P.J. Hall and Derek Roberson.
Part of Sam Houston State's recipe for success over the past decade has been the transfer route, though they also do well recruiting the talent-rich high schools of Texas. Texas RB transfer Toneil Carter is one to keep your eye on, and UTEP DL Trace Mascorro will be another to watch. Carter played in nine games for the Longhorns two years ago before redshirting in 2018, while Mascorro played in 24 games at UTEP and was a Freshman All-CUSA selection in 2017.
OUR TAKE: Last year was an anomaly for Sam Houston State football. One can bet that 2019 won't be a repeat of it. But another situation has arisen in the Southland Conference. Last year, the Bearkats' losses to Lamar and Incarnate Word undoubtedly led to those two programs' jaunts into the FCS postseason — two programs unaccustomed to playing after Thanksgiving. That's an idea of how parity filled 2018 was in the Southland, and we feel strongly that parity craziness will continue into 2019 as the league looks stronger, collectively, than it has in years. Gone are the days where Sam Houston State needed to win one or maybe two big league games and then could coast to 50+ point wins. The league is much better now. So the Bearkats will need to be on guard, especially on the road
The 'Kats open with an FBS opponent they can actually beat, New Mexico, but they'll have to have found at least some of the answers to the questions up front on both sides of the ball. They have all three Southland playoff teams (Incarnate Word, Lamar and Nicholls) at home, but one of the league frontrunners Central Arkansas on the road. Still, that's a nice league slate. The opportunity is here, folks, but what will the 'Kats do with it? Our prediction? After spending time with the Sam Houston State contingent talking about a change in culture from last year, and hearing Hunter Brown and Tyler Edwards talking about a rebound, I'm convinced this is an eight or nine-win club — nine wins guarantees a playoff berth, but eight wins won't be a guarantee. That's what the happy spot looks like, and the recent focus on the strength and conditioning program (see Keeler's quote below) will be a big reason for it.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Jr./DB Zyon McCollum (1st Team All Southland in 2018 – 3 INTs, 44 tackles, 11 passes defensed)
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./WR Nathan Stewart (2nd Team All Southland in 2018 – 58 catches for 1,063 yards, 5 TDs); Sr./DL Erick Fowler (2nd Team All Southland in 2018 – 14.5 TFLs, 40 tackles); Soph./QB Ty Brock (2,417 yards passing, 15 TDs); Jr./RB Kyran Jackson (809 yards rushing, 8 TDs, 263 yards receiving); Soph./WR Dee Bowens (31 catches, 528 yards, 3 TDs); Sr./LB Hunter Brown (97 tackles led SH, 6 TFLs); Sr./LB Royce See (80 tackles, 12 TFL, 5.5 sacks); Sr./OL Tyler Edwards (28 career starts); Sr./TE-HB Woody Brandom (Preseason 2nd Team All Southland).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./DB Rance McInnis (No. 170 FCS signee in the HERO Sports 2019 Recruiting Rankings – 5 FBS offers reported)
COACH SAYS: "I don't want to say we took a step back last year, but when you graduate a Jeremiah Briscoe and a Corey Avery and Yedi Louis and a second-round draft pick in P.J. Hall and have the injuries up front, it was natural you might take a step back. But more importantly than anything is that everybody got better last year. We realized we need to keep moving forward. So we added a football only strength coach, and what has happened is we have two great strength coaches in the room and all of a sudden the strength program has taken a big step forward … We've made some strides, because people are trying to catch us and we are trying to keep a step ahead of that. We took a step back, 6-5 isn't where we want to be. Everybody else (in the league) is making a commitment and that is making us make a bigger commitment too." — Sam Houston St. head coach K.C. Keeler told HERO Sports' Brian McLaughlin on July 18 at Southland Media Days
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Sam Houston State Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The Southland
Incarnate Word | Lamar | McNeese | Nicholls
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